If you've been reading along for a while, this story may be familiar. It's the story of my daughter's first encounter with prejudice and the ways in which it affected her.

I wrote this in June 2011:

My daughter is a dancer. She loves to sing, she loves to act--but above all these--she loves to dance. She has been dancing almost every minute of her life. She dances to the bus stop in the morning. She dances in hallways and on the playground. She turns flips and cartwheels from the bus to our door. She does pirouettes in the grocery aisle.

She literally never stops dancing.

For four years she has danced at a studio I won't name. While there, she recruited at least three friends a year to join her at this studio. Her enthusiasm for dance and for her studio were apparent to everyone. Over time, her circle of friends became synonymous with this dance studio.

I too love to dance, so after her first year, I joined the studio as well--taking adult hip-hop, ballet and jazz.

My son attempted a boy's combined tap/hip-hop class but, being the Aspie he is, well...it didn't work out. Being a single parent, there were times when a babysitter or my mother brought the kids to dance. There was an incident with my son that caused me to take him out of dance classes -- he bolted out the door and began running down the street. He was quickly retrieved of course. As anyone who has an autistic child knows, this is not uncommon, so my mother didn't even mention it to me until well after the fact. Of course we apologized to the studio owner for the disruption. I took my son out of dance class. He was rarely at the studio after that. When he was, he was well-behaved.

We went happily on dancing at the studio for another two years, both of us taking classes, summer camp  -- anything to do with dance.

After three years, my daughter was the age she had been told she needed to be to compete. Her skill level was higher than most children in her class, and she was very excited and thrilled to be able to get on stage in front of judges and show what she could do. She asked her teacher about the team and when it would begin. She was told she wasn't going to be invited onto the team this year because her "attendance was poor." This didn't sound right to us, since the only classes she had missed had been due to illnesses -- have I mentioned that she loves to dance?

Yes, she loves to dance, so she spent that year working very hard on her skills. We documented all absences, and made sure she made up any classes missed. In the meantime, a few friends in a lower skill class than her were asked to be on the team. Finally, the summer rolled around again, and she again approached her teacher. She was told again "No, you have too many absences." When I protested that she had only missed 3 classes, and had made them all up, I was told I would have to take it up with the owner.

I requested a meeting with the owner. She refused. I sent a letter--she never answered it. I attempted to talk to her as she came through the studio one day--she said she would not discuss it and her decisions were final.

Now, lest you think we'd done anything to provoke this reaction, please let me tell how loyal we had been to this studio. We'd attended competitions in support of the team. I'd volunteered twice a year every year as a backstage monitor. I'd run fundraisers. I'd paid for lessons for both myself and my daughter (NOT cheap and sometimes a real struggle for a single Mom) on time and regularly. My daughter worked hard in her classes and so did I.

            I was stumped and my daughter was devastated.

Before my eyes I saw her visibly droop. She stopped dancing everywhere. She cried herself to sleep at night. She was continually comparing herself to girls who WERE on the team -- well I'm as good as this girl, I'm better than her...maybe if I was as good as X. Her loss of confidence was terrible to witness. Even worse to watch because she really is good.

Terrible to watch because she has always been a resilient child -- one who has bounced back from abandonment by her father, from the death of a beloved babysitter, from the loss of our beloved church (and THAT's a story for another day!) and from bullying. Terrible to watch because her resilience had always been rooted in two things -- knowing she was loved by me and her brother, and that she could DANCE.

Finally I got a teacher to tell me what was going on. Even though my son had only been back to the studio as a visitor, hadn't been back at ALL in the the last year, and was perfectly well-behaved, the owner thought he was "weird." Apparently on the basis of this, she didn't want my daughter on her team.

I was shocked. Surely a grown adult would not hold an autistic brother against a nine year child??

The final straw came when it came time to sign up again for another year. EVERY other girl my daughter's age had been invited onto the competition team. There were NO classes being given at her skill level, and she would have to repeat a year at her former level!

I was furious. The determined. How could I help my daughter recover her confidence and love of dance?

I thought one place to start might be to get another dance teacher to assess her skills. Were we right in thinking she was pretty good? Were we deluded? I looked up other local dance studios. One name stood out -- a studio whose dancers we had seen and been impressed by at a competition we'd attended. I called and asked if they held open auditions. Yes, I was told, but they'd already happened. The very nice woman then added, "But she's welcome to audition by taking a class. We'll evaluate her and she if there is a place for her on one of our teams." With much trepidation, that's what we did.

My daughter approached this "audition" with both hope and fear. What if they didn't like her? What if they didn't want her? But Oh how she wanted to dance!

After only a few moments in the class, the teacher came out to see me. "She'll do fine on our "Red" team," she said, "She'll fit right in."  I did a little research -- this studio's "Red" team was a level ABOVE the team my daughter had been refused at her old studio. We felt affirmed -- she IS a good dancer and will only get better.

Best of all, my daughter felt welcomed and affirmed. Not only by the teacher, but also by the very nice girls in the class.

It will be very hard to leave our friends behind. Both my daughter and I have good friends at the old studio. My "niece" (and my daughter's best friend) still attends there. But to see the light in my daughter's eye again will be worth any amount of pain at leaving.


My daughter just finished her first year at the new studio. What a difference a year makes! She has learned so much this year -- I can't believe the difference in her skills and technique

Her teachers are clearly skilled at what they do and their choreography is amazing. She got to dance in the Nutcracker, and competed in three competitions throughout the year. She discovered that she loves competition even more than she thought she would.

Although she has been a little sad that her new team doesn't do hip-hop (which she LOVES) she has been more than happy to learn how much better she can be at ballet, tap and jazz. She has learned her leaps and turns, and has all but one of her splits. She has landed a front aerial for the first time.

She recently auditioned and was invited onto the next level up "Orange" team and was THRILLED beyond words!!

She is still overly sensitive when she thinks someone doubts her abilities. I guess that's inevitable, considering how very crushed she was at her former studio. She is a very sweet child, and loves her teammates, so I think her confidence will be more restored over time. This year's teachers made a point of praising her hard work and it meant the world to her.

I've made friends too. And many of my friends at the old studio have asked about the new. While I am not vindictive, and wouldn't try to "lure" anyone away--I sincerely think their children would do better at this new studio. I see a level of caring and love for their students in these teachers that was entirely lacking in the old studio. And, thankfully, I see in the new owner also a dedication to nurturing my child's love of dance. And that is all I really care about. I want her heart to soar again.

It feels like a story of redemption -- a journey from bitterness and sadness into light and hope. I think I might even sign up for classes myself this coming year.

p.s. As I was writing this, my daughter danced into the room, turned two cartwheels and danced out again. She is back to dancing everywhere she goes.

Thank you  _ _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  Dance Center.

Thank you for giving me my dancer back.